By Vince Loose

Right now, people with disabilities nationwide are stepping up to the plate in the face of adversity. COVID-19 is impacting all of us and this talented workforce is showing their commitment to the communities in which they work and live. Many of them are manufacturing personal protective equipment and performing custodial services, which are critical components of the nation’s response. 

In the last few weeks, people with disabilities at nonprofit organizations PRIDE in California and Versability Resources in Virginia, loaded the U.S. Navy Ships Mercy and Comfort with enough meals to feed each ship’s thousand-plus crew members for several weeks. These ships are now in Los Angeles and New York City supporting the COVID-19 response as floating hospitals to alleviate those region’s overwhelmed health care systems. 

That’s just one example of how people with disabilities are responding to this national emergency. In support of the nationwide call for more protective face masks, professionals with disabilities at nonprofits such as TradeWinds in Indiana and Goodwill Easter Seals of the Miami Valley in Ohio are also busy sewing masks. 

While many professionals with disabilities are maintaining meaningful employment and supporting their families during this crisis, others are losing their jobs. The buildings where many of them work have closed their doors and directed people to work from home. This comes at a significant cost to all Americans, including people with disabilities, who were already a vulnerable segment of the workforce. 

In the last year, job numbers showed lower unemployment rates for people with disabilities. However, it’s also important to note that 70% of this population remained unemployed before this pandemic. The likelihood of improving this figure seemed feasible not too long ago. 

Today, we face a new challenge: providing support and resources to prevent the unemployment rate for this population from skyrocketing. 

Aside from the emotional toll this is having on people with disabilities, the COVID-19 crisis has the potential to have dire effects on federal and state budgets, as well as the overall economy. Many of these individuals may turn to federal programs such as Supplemental Security Income, Disability Insurance, Medicaid and Social Security Disability to supplement their lost income to survive. 

As a nation, we need to ensure that the momentum for meaningful employment opportunities for professionals with disabilities isn’t lost due to this crisis. We can’t let this new challenge jeopardize the progress we have made to include these talented individuals in our workforce. We must work together, alongside people with disabilities, to include them in any solution as we carve a path forward.

As we adjust to this new normal, remember to contact your members of Congress and urge them to include people with disabilities, and affirmative employers of professionals with disabilities, in any COVID-19 employment-related legislation. But most importantly, be a part of the solution by reaching out to those around you with disabilities and check-in on them. We are all in this crisis together, and together we will prevail.